Promoting “Rare” Breeds
Posted on 11/21/2011 in Ringside Conversations.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
In more cases than you might imagine, people involved with our new or sometimes called “rare” breeds are just as new to the world of purebred dogs. The breeds in which they become interested are, in many cases, the first time they’ve even owned a dog of any kind.
There are many pitfalls in achieving recognition for a breed. When those who are brimming with enthusiasm for their newfound canine friends, but have little background in how this should be accomplished, are put in charge they can often make mistakes that do more harm than good to their cause. Origin, purpose and intelligently written standards - written in the country of origin by the founders of a breed - are all too often dismissed as the breed’s new enthusiasts set about making their breed “American.”
The period new-to-America breeds spend in the “waiting wings” can be one of the most positive and progressive periods the fanciers of the breed involved might ever experience. Please note, however, that I say this time can be positive and progressive.
What transpires during this transition period depends in a great part upon the individuals who have been placed (or who have placed themselves) in charge of the movement. It’s the in charge part of the picture that can create the problems. Unfortunately, being there first, or love of the breed are not necessarily qualifications for leading the breed along the right path.
Look at it this way - no doubt there are individuals in your life who have been lifelong friends (they’ve known you since you were in pigtails). They love you truly, madly and deeply, and you know that you could call upon them for help without question. These are qualities to be held in high regard. But as steadfast as their devotion to you may be, it is highly unlikely that they would be the same people you would ask to come on over, pick up a scalpel, and join in on your open heart surgery.
So it is with many important situations that must be dealt with on the way to breed stability and recognition. People who are qualified to make the important decisions, are willing to seek the advice of experts, and are able to approach problems objectively, are critical to the cause.
There’s a great deal involved with the hoped for transition from obscurity to winning championship points than enthusiasm. How the breed and the people involved are perceived counts more than one might realize.
The first scramble toward recognition always seems to be directed at writing a new standard for the breed. If the breed is from another country, rewording or realigning the standard’s format is one thing, changing it is another. Unfortunately, significant changes always seem to be the order of the day. This practice leads one to wonder why a standard that has served the breed so well for decades, even centuries, requires doctoring or worse, complete overhauling. All too often, standards are changed before those in charge fully understand what was asked for in the first place or even why it was asked for.
Probably the motivating thought process is that the breed is in fact new among those seeking recognition and, since it is new, why not have the breed look like what the American founders of the club want it to look like.
The danger in this practice is that before the breed really becomes established in its new home, it splits off from original intent. What was a single breed does, in fact, become two breeds - the original and the “revamped”. The long-run damage lies in that neither of the two is able to help the other when need arises - and I assure that need does often arise at some point in a breed’s history. One need only look at the Havanese breed as an example. Once a splinter group left its home in the UKC, breed type shot off in so many directions one wonders if will ever be able to recover its consistency in the foreseeable future.
There are many originally imported breeds that are now established here that have run into health problems that were without resolution because of homogeneity of bloodlines. The breeds that have adhered to the original intent of the breed are able to go abroad and find dogs of similar phenotype but entirely different genotype.
Changes from the original not only create problems for the breed itself, they invariably create controversy, dissension and factions within the organizing cadre. There is nothing more damaging to a breed than club wars. Each faction firmly believing in the correctness of its platform sends its own message to judges and new breeders.
One would think this would result in perhaps two different looks in a breed. Were it that simple! When conflicting messages are received, judges and new breeders are far more apt to develop their own interpretations. With a myriad of interpretations in use, all too often it is not necessarily the best dog that sets the standard for the breed, but the one with the biggest win record. One can only hope that the dog with the biggest record is also the one that does justice to the breed.
All the Right Moves
I became involved with the rare breeds in the late 1960s. At that time I was introduced to the French-Belgium breed, the Bichon Frisé. The breed held a minor degree of interest in Europe, but was all but unknown here in North America.
The breed did have several very positive factors in its favor. Bichons were attractive, and they came to America equipped with a well-written FCI standard that had been in existence since 1933. Most important, however, was the group supporting the breed here in America was made up of those who were duty bound to remain in agreement in matters that affected the future of the breed.
Did every member of the club agree on every detail? Of course not, but when it came to what was presented to the public, the membership subjugated their personal preferences to the good of the cause. In short, the Bichon Frisé was unfalteringly backed up by the entire all of its supporters. Conflicting messages were never sent out.
The only modification made in the breed from the original standard was made in respect to the degree of coat trimming allowed. The Bichon membership felt that more extensive scissoring produced a significantly better look for the breed without tampering with correct conformation.
In the day when many breeds spent decades floundering around in near obscurity, the Bichon advanced to full recognition in less than two years. Now, just over 40 years later, the Bichon is one of the strongest competitors on the all breed scene.
If one new breed club has asked me how to go about firmly and correctly establishing their breed here in America, I have been asked by a dozen. I have given them a one-word answer - cooperation! Cooperation is needed not only within the ranks, but also with knowledgeable people who know about many breeds and how they are constructed.
Fanciers who are in the beginning stages of their careers in dogs really can’t be expected to know all they will know after many years of experience and observation of many breeds in addition to their own. However, there is no excuse for not calling upon those who understand the consequence even minor changes to a standard might have upon a breed.
The value of people possessing extensive knowledge of many breeds cannot be underestimated. They know how a new breed is similar to existing breeds and where it is different. They are able to capture what is known in the dog game lexicon as the “essence” of a breed - the characteristics that make a breed unique. They know the key words that will help judges understand what those critical details are.
Few, if any, of the judges a new breed will be shown to are directly involved in a new breed, but at the same time they play a significant role in shaping the breed’s future. It is a matter of urgency that judges are given the information they need if they are to make educated selections. It is easier to educate judges before the fact than trying to undo misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
There was a time when dog breeders and parent clubs had to think nationally if their breeds were to remain healthy and competitive. Today the picture is much different. The modern fancier must think globally. There is a world of knowledge at our fingertips that must be resourced. It is the only path that leads to real progress and success.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp has been successfully involved in practically every facet of purebred dogs: breeding, exhibiting, publishing, writing. He is the author of numerous breed and all breed books including the best-selling Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type and Breeding Dogs for Dummies. He has judged all breeds throughout the world and was one of the United Kennel Club’s first all breed judges.
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.